This CD review was originally published in the February 28, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at thebluesblast.com
Black Magic Johnson – Call Me
12 tracks / 54:21
I think there is a Springfield in almost every state in the United States, but the one closest to Chicago is the one that gets my attention as there is a lot of great music that comes out of that city. Black Magic Johnson is no exception, having honed their skills by putting in a lot of hours gigging around the area. Despite the band’s busy schedule, they have managed to take the time to put together their newest CD, Call Me.
Black Magic Johnson is led by Reggie Britton, who wrote all twelve of the songs on Call Me and performed the lead vocals as well as the drum and harmonica parts. He is joined on this album by Alexis Rogers and Dan Grover on guitars (and background vocals) while Willie Chrismon and Bob Hagler split the bass duties, and Suit & Tie Guy worked the keyboards. By the way, Suit & Tie guy has to be one of the best musician names I have ever run into.
The band’s songs are mixture of genres that includes rhythm and blues, rock, soul and even a little country and gospel thrown in for good measure. But all of it is good-times music with lots of vocal harmonies and a heavy emphasis on guitars, which Rogers and Grover do an admirable job with. You will hear all of this on the first track, “Crazy About You Baby,” which has a nice Chicago blues flavor. This upbeat song is fun with simple lyrics and a jaunty syncopated rhythm guitar that pops along with the snare.
The funky “Loving Ways” is the next one in line, and Britton shows that his songwriting is versatile, as the lyrics are a bit more complicated. Sticking to the old standby relationship subject, he paints a picture of a saint of a woman using some really fun rhymes. The guitars are scorching on this tune, and everything comes off a little distorted. Then the band switches gears quickly with the slow and soulful “Standing By Me” which makes liberal use of acoustic guitars and Suit & Tie Guy’s Hammond.
My favorite song on this album is “Water from a Rock” a rollicking eight-bar blues tune that is built on the foundation of a doubled rhythm guitar and bass line. The music is good, but the lyrics are what make this stuff real. This is pure wit as Britton addresses the unrealistic expectations of another: “You want water from a rock / and blood from a turnip, baby / and sunlight under your shade tree.” Too true!
Most of the songs on Call Me are the usual four to five minutes, but they squeezed a couple of longer ones in too. The risqué (at times) “She’s Got Everything” clocks in at almost eight minutes, not because they threw in a couple of extra guitar solos, but because there were just a ton of things they wanted to say and that was how long it took to get the job done. The slow-burning blues song “Love So Cold” is a tick over 10 minutes. This song does not shortchange the guitar parts at all, and in fact it is so heavy that it would fit in perfectly with the blues rock of Led Zeppelin’s first album.
Suit & Tie Guy brings a few different keyboard sounds to Call Me, most noticeably the distorted synthesizers on “Blues Traveler” and his fine organ work on “All Tore Up,” which are both placed near the end of the CD. Then, after spending eleven tracks proving what good musicians they are, the band chose to end the album with a short a capella soul number, “Thank You Baby.” This is really the only opportunity to hear their voices without any coloration or distraction from the instruments, and with their sweet harmonization it turned out really nicely.
Black Magic Johnson created a very good album with Call Me, and I am impressed that they put together a collection of a dozen solid tracks without having to use any cover tunes. The lyrics and score are consistent, and there is a not a clunker in the bunch. You can find them gigging around the Springfield, Illinois area on most weekends, so be sure to check them out if you get a chance -- I am sure you will have a great time!